As someone who didn’t grow up in the Capital Region, I have always been baffled by the local specialty of serving mozzarella sticks with melba (raspberry) sauce. I have always known and loved the traditional accompaniment of marinara sauce for mozzarella sticks as well as lots of other unhealthy goodies like calamari or garlic knots. For all of the years I’ve lived here now, I have barely even contemplated ordering the raspberry sauce option when I see it on the menu, because what could possibly be more delicious than the red sauce?
That is, until I recently started attending a few unofficial Yelp events that focus on tavern fare across the region. One of the staples that’s ordered at each tavern for comparison is mozzarella sticks, and always with the melba sauce only. I’ve tried it at a couple of the taverns now, and for the most part I remain pretty unconvinced. The melba sauce has largely been thin and syrupy, and at times it clashes with a mozzarella stick that’s heavily seasoned.
I’ve been told that Ralph’s Tavern on Central Avenue just before Wolf Road is the place that will finally convert me to loving raspberry sauce with mozzarella sticks, and that perhaps it’s even the best in the region. So I decided to cut right to the chase and try a quality version, rather than continuing to sample some weaker offerings each month.
The beauty of these mozzarella sticks is that they are clearly homemade instead of pulled out of a freezer bag. The shape is mostly a neat square cut, but with a touchy of messy variation. The breading did not have a lot of the Italian seasoning that might otherwise clash with a sweet sauce, and there was a touch of crumbly breadcrumbs that came off with each bite. My only minor complaint with the actual sticks was that they were a little oily from the fryer. I also hate any presentation with sad lettuce underneath a dish. I don’t know who they’re trying to kid here, but I don’t order fried appetizers thinking that I’m getting my daily serving of vegetables. Lettuce beneath something like this just ends up looking wilted and lackluster.
The melba sauce was fairly thick and had actual raspberry seeds as well as a rich fruit flavor. There was some of the syrupy sweetness that I’ve noticed in other local raspberry sauces, but I think they actually add some real fruit to this version, and it shows.
After sampling what could be the best offering of mozzarella sticks with raspberry sauce in the Albany region, the real question is, was it enough to finally convince me? Truthfully, not yet. I thought that both the mozzarella sticks and the melba sauce were good in their own right, but I still don’t completely buy them as something that should be ordered together. I missed the savoriness and saltiness of a marinara, and I think a warm sauce is more complementary to the melted cheese than a cool, fruity sauce.
I tend to find that people who have lived here longer are the most enthusiastic supporters of mozzarella sticks and melba, so perhaps the answer is just to give it more time. Maybe if I order it enough, it will start to grow on me. Or maybe there’s another place in the area that will be the one to finally convince me. I’m open to suggestions on the best mozzarella and melba you’ve tried – let me know in the comments below!